Shaun Johnson’s burgeoning status in rugby league has stepped up to another level with confirmation today that he will join Greg Inglis to officially launch the 2015 NRL season in Auckland on Thursday night.
The NRL premier event is being held outside Australia for the first time, providing a glittering build-up to the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines and the Vodafone Warriors’ 20th anniversary season.
And today the NRL further boosted the Trans-Tasman flavour by confirming 24-year-old Kiwi and Vodafone Warrior Johnson will team up with Kangaroos rival Inglis to launch the NRL’s biggest ever calendar.
Johnson admits to being surprised and honoured yet also nervous about being singled out.
“It was a bit of a surprise to be asked,” he said.
“I’ve always known about the launch and have been aware of the players who have opened the season before but never thought I’d ever do it.
“It’s obviously a big honour for me personally and awesome for the game in this country.
“I’ve grown up here understanding where rugby league sits on the table of sports in New Zealand. It can do only good for the game having this kind of profile here.
“I’m stoked I’m going to be a part of it but I’m also a bit nervous. I’ve never spoken in front of that number of people before so hopefully I go alright and don’t muck up my lines too much.”
Johnson will address 400 guests at Thursday night’s launch event on Auckland’s waterfront, an occasion which will be attended by the game’s leaders, sponsors, current and former players, members of the rugby league community at large and celebrities.
Johnson will play his part in launching a 10-month calendar beginning with the NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park on Saturday and Sunday (January 31 and February 1). It continues with NRL trials, the NRL All Stars match, the World Club Series, the Telstra Premiership, the annual Trans-Tasman Test, the Holden State of Origin and ultimately the NRL Finals Series.
Johnson’s rugby league stocks are booming as he eyes his fifth NRL season, one which starts with him needing 17 more appearances to reach the 100-game milestone. He’s also only 78 points short of 500 points in the NRL.
Only last month he was acknowledged as the world’s best player when he won the prestigious Golden Boot, finishing well clear in voting from a field which included Inglis.
A week ago Johnson was named to lead the Vodafone Warriors again at this year’s NRL Nines while he’s also a finalist for the New Zealand Rugby League’s Player of the Year award, the winner of which will be announced in Auckland on Wednesday night. The other finalists are his national and club captain Simon Mannering and Kiwi and Melbourne prop Jesse Bromwich.
In addition Johnson’s brilliant try for the Kiwis in their win against the Kangaroos in the Four Nations final in Wellington in November is a prime contender for the Favourite Sporting Moment of the Year to be announced at next month’s Halberg Awards.
It was the defining act of the final, one in which Johnson underlined his class when he left none other than Inglis in his wake. On Thursday night the pair will be centre stage together again, only in a distinctly more amicable environment without national glory on the line.
While Johnson was a surprise omission for the Sportsman of the Year category, he and his Kiwi team-mates are among the finalists in the Team of the Year category.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Andrew McFadden and Mannering will be among the guests at Thursday night’s launch while the following day representatives from all 16 NRL Nines squads will attend a fan day at Aotea Square in Auckland.
Fans will be able to have photos taken with all major trophies. On show will be World Club Challenge Trophy, Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines Trophy, State of Origin Shield, Bill Kelly Cup, Four Nations Cup, All Stars Trophy and Provan-Summons Premiership Trophy.